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Detective Career Guide

A detective has an interesting, exciting and fast paced career. Their job is to identify, gather, and analyze evidence and facts surrounding various crimes… whether it’s a murder, kidnapping, arson or theft!

All detectives will need a high school diploma or equivalent. Typically, federal agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, require prospective detectives to have a bachelor’s degree in a related field (e.g., criminal justice or law enforcement).

Before becoming a detective, you will need to enter to police force and work your way up the ranks. Detectives will learn their fundamental skills through this police force training. Detectives will learn any additional skills on the job and will continue to develop their skills throughout their career.

The best reason and usually the driving force behind an individual deciding to become a detective is the need to serve and protect. While most people feel a sense of compassion and care for fellow human beings, those who enter such career paths have a higher sense of duty. Becoming a detective allows a person to uncover the truth about wrong doings and bring people to justice, all the while making a difference in the world. This is a big achievement and a worthwhile reason to invest in such a career.

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Detective Career Ratings

Income

Career
Growth

Personal Growth

Contribution

Influence

Overview

What a detective actually does

The role of a detective is to identify, gather, and analyze evidence and facts surrounding various crimes. Whether it’s a murder, kidnapping, arson or theft, the detective is tasked with the monumental duty of figuring out what exactly happened and who is at fault. Detectives spend the vast majority of their working time at a crime scene, which requires great mental strength. The typical duties and responsibilities of a detective include:

  • Managing and conducting a range of  investigations in your area of responsibility
  • Gathering, verifying and assessing all appropriate and available information to gain an accurate understanding of situations
  • Developing and evaluating strategies to manage investigations
  • Making decisions based on balancing risks, costs and benefits
  • Analysing and interpreting data
  • Examining records and documents
  • Preparing case papers and evidential files
  • Dealing with forensic material and its submissions
  • Conducting interviews and interrogations with suspected offenders and/or witnesses and victims
  • Participating in and conducting raids, searches or arrests
  • Obtaining witness statements
  • Managing and leading teams of police staff

Why they are needed

Detectives serve and protect. They are essential members of any community and are needed to keep the community safe. They do this by solving crimes, of any seriousness, and ensuring the correct criminals are convicted. Without the advanced knowledge and skills of detectives, the lives and property of many people would still be at risk. Detectives play a huge role in ensuring crimes are fairly resolved and keeping society safe.

Pros and cons of a career as a private investigator:

Pros:

  • A career as a detective is fast-paced, thrilling and engaging
  • It is a rewarding career, as you play a fundamental role in solving crimes and ensuring the correct person is convicted
  • Detectives are in demand, meaning that there is a lot of career opportunities and job security
  • There is a lot of variety in detective work, as the career offers a variety of specialities to choose from (e.g., homicide, fraud, narcotics)

Cons:

  • Detectives tend work long and unsociable hours (e.g., weekends, evenings and holiday periods). On top of this, they never know their schedule week to week
  • Detectives may be away from home a lot
  • Detectives will have to deal with dangerous or unstable people
  • Being a detective can be very dangerous, as detectives may find themselves in unpredictable or unexpected situations
  • Like most jobs,  detectives will have to do mundane, boring and time consuming tasks (e.g., admin, writing emails or updating reports).

Employability

Job market

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of detectives is projected to grow 5 percent from 2019 to 2029, which is faster than the average for all occupations.

This employment growth is expected because even with crime rates falling, the demands for police services to maintain and improve safety is expected to continue.

Career paths

To become a detective, you will typically start your career as a police officer before being promoted to a detective.

All detectives will need a high school diploma or equivalent. Typically, federal agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation require prospective detectives to have a bachelor’s degree in a related field (e.g., criminal justice or law enforcement). All police staff will attend a training academy, before becoming an officer. During this time, they will learn about state and local laws, constitutional law, civil rights, and police ethics. Recruits also receive training and supervised experience in areas such as patrol, traffic control, firearm use, self-defense, first aid, and emergency response.

Example Job Titles for Detective

Below is a list of common job titles in the Detective field. Click the links below for more information about these job titles, or view the next section for actual real-life job profiles.

Benefits & Conditions

Income and benefits

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for detectives and criminal investigators was $83,170 in 2019. The lowest 10 percent of police and detectives earned less than $37,710, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $109,620. The top paying industry in 2019 was the federal government, where the median annual salary was $88,060. This is followed by the state government ($68,610) and then the local government ($63,410).

Autonomy and Flexibility

As a being a detective is a senior role in the police force, they tend to have a lot of control over their work and the decisions they make. Therefore, autonomy for detectives is high. They are also often in charge of a team of other detectives, which gives them further autonomy. Flexibility, however, is unlikely to be as high. This is because detectives may have to attend crime scenes at short notice and will often find themselves working until they have resolved whatever needs resolving. Detectives will often work long hours, and will most likely find they have little flexibility.

Locations and commute

Job opportunities will vary between states, depending on the local and state budget. According to Zippia, the best states to be a ‘forensic investigator’ (i.e., a detective), based on average annual salary and availability of jobs, were:

  1. Nevada, where the average annual salary was $73,210
  2. Illinois, where the average annual salary was $72,680
  3. Wyoming, where the average annual salary was $61,950
  4. Virginia, where the average annual salary was $67,770
  5. Iowa, where the average annual salary was $64,910

The worst states, according to Zippia, were Hawaii, South Carolina, Maine, Kentucky and New Jersey.

Work environment

77% of detectives were employed by the local government. 12% were employed by the state government and 7% by the federal government. Detective work can be very physically demanding, stressful and dangerous. But, it is incredibly rewarding as detectives are always helping their community.

Detectives will attend crime scenes, where they will spend time gathering evidence. They will, however, also work in offices in police stations, where they will do paper work, conduct interviews and host team meetings.

Career Satisfaction

Common Matching Personality Types

Which personalities tend to succeed and thrive in Detective careers? Based on our research, there is a relatively strong positive correlation between the following personality types and Detective career satisfaction. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t many exceptions, of course, but if you fit into one of the following personality types then we suggest you give strong consideration to a career in Detective.

16 Types (Myers-Briggs)

Big Five (OCEAN)

  • None

DISC

  • None

Enneagram

Holland Codes (RIASEC)

Personality types

The exact personality types and/or traits of a detective are yet to be explored. However, one study found that police recruits scored higher than firefighters on extraversion and conscientiousness. The same study also found that compared to the normal population, police officers scored higher on excitement-seeking. Similarly, another study found that police applicants reported low levels of neuroticism and high levels of extraversion and conscientiousness. As detectives progress from police officers, it is likely that they will need similar characteristics.

Accomplishment and mastery

Detectives learn many of the skills they need through their degree program, their time as a police officer and through on-the-job training. Therefore, there is a high sense of accomplishment and mastery of skills. Furthermore, throughout their career, detectives will continue to feel a lot of accomplishment and mastery when the correctly solve cases and get criminals convicted. In doing this, they are protecting and serving the community… which is a great achievement!

Meaning and contribution

The meaning and contribution of a detective is high. This is because they have the skills and knowledge to solves hundreds of crimes, put the correct people in prison and therefore protect the community. This work is necessary to the proper functioning of society and the correct implementation of the justice system and is, therefore, invaluable.

Life fit

Detectives usually work full time and paid overtime is common. Detectives will work long hours because crime scenes can appear around the clock – and a detective is normally one of the first people at a crime scene. Shift work is quite common for detectives, therefore they can expect to have to work evenings, weekends and holidays.

Who will thrive in this career?

To thrive as a detective, you will need to have the mental strength stamina to keep up with the demands of the job. Detectives will witness some terrible sights and work long hours, under immense pressure… its not for everyone, and you need to be tough to handle it.

To thrive in this career, you will also need to be willing to commit to the erratic schedule of a detective, such as working long days and/or evenings and weekends. On top of this, you will thrive as a detective if you can think rationally and analytically and make effective decisions. This is essential, as detectives will often work under pressure and will have to make decisions that could effect the outcome of the case.

Who will struggle in this career?

Firstly, if you would prefer to work a typical 9 to 5, then you will struggle with the unsociable  and unpredictable hours of being a detective. Similarly, those who prefer to work in one place, opposed to working partly in the field/on a crime scene and partly in an office, will struggle working as a detective. Those who don’t pay attention to detail and can’t think rationally under pressure might struggle being a detective as they will miss clues and information (big or small) that could solve problems. Finally, those who lack leadership skills may struggle, as detectives must be able to confidently lead a team of other police officers.

Requirements

Skills and talents

To be a successful detective, you will need skills and talents such as:

  • Leadership skills, as detectives will be responsible for leading teams of police officers and must be able to guide and instruct them
  • Communication skills, both verbal and written, as detectives must write reports and be able to communicate with other police or legal professionals
  • Attention to detail, as detectives will have to solve problems, which have the smallest clues
  • Ability to remain calm in stressful situations, as detectives will have to work in unpredictable environments. They will also need to be able to lead teams under these circumstances too
  • Decision making skills, as detectives must be able to make quick decisions, sometimes in dangerous situations, based on the limited information
  • Listening skills, as detectives will have to interviewing victims, offenders and witnesses
  • Analytical thinking skills, as a detective must gather information and data to solve problems

Education

All detectives will need a high school diploma or equivalent. Typically, federal agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation require prospective detectives to have a bachelor’s degree in a related field (e.g., criminal justice or law enforcement).

Certifications

The certification and licensing requirements of a detective change drastically from state to state.

How to Become

Summary

A detective identifies, gathers, and analyzes evidence and facts surrounding various crimes. Whether it’s a murder, kidnapping, arson or theft, the detective is tasked with the monumental duty of figuring out what exactly happened and who is at fault. Many detectives start their career in as a police officer, before working their way up through the ranks to a detective.

Immediate action

If you want to become a detective, you should consider what degree program you would like to take. You will then need to find a local police force, that you can join as an officer. To give yourself the best chance of getting accepted into a police training scheme, you should try to gain some experience in the police force, or a related field.

Education and learning

All detectives will need a high school diploma or equivalent. Typically, federal agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation require prospective detectives to have a bachelor’s degree in a related field (e.g., criminal justice or law enforcement).

Skill development

Detectives will learn their fundamental skills through the police force training, that most detectives will have to complete. Detectives will then learn any additional skills on the job and will continue to develop their skills throughout their career.

FAQs

Ask a Question

Have a question about Detective careers? If so, our mentors would love to help! Just click on a mentor’s profile below and then fill out the “Ask a Question” form on that page. Your question will then be emailed to the mentor, who can then email you a reply.

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